Martyn and Sea Spell in Plymouth Sound, Devon.

A view from the Pandora Inn, Restronguet Creek, Cornwall.

Sea Spell at home in Falmouth Marina, Cornwall.

Early Morning view from Sea Spell on the River Realm, Newton Ferrers, Devon.

Sea Spell in Falmouth Marina, Cornwall

Mini Sailing Icon

DSCF9235The small yacht market has almost disappeared as boat building companies concentrate on larger models, stating there’s no money in small boats.

One small yacht which has defied this trend is the Cornish Shrimper 19 from Cornish CrabbersA sailing boat full of old world charm of yesteryears.

This little vessel is to sailing what the Volkswagen Campervan is to camping ‘Iconic’.

So what makes a boat so popular, is it price, size, club association or a particular feature, to me it’s all of them.

out of focusThe Cornish Shrimper 19 is a salty looking vessel, gaff rigged in the style of a bygone age with tan sails and a cosy minimalist interior. She has shallow draught to enable creek crawling with the added benefit of being able to take the ground comfortably if the water disappears. 

She can be trailed, raced, cruised or just pottered about in. She has few vices, is easy to rig and sail and yet is large enough to spend a few days living aboard. The best way to describe living onboard a Shrimper is camping on water. 

Going aboard the first impression is just how pretty and well put together she is, and how totally at home she looks on any mooring. Stepping aboard is easy, she rolls a little, but with an up-plate draught of a mere one and a half feet, this is understandable. 

The cockpit is well proportioned for such a small hull, the forward part of the cockpit well is taken up with a sloping engine box-cum- storage locker. In this space is housed the boats battery for the outboard version with plenty of space to store bulky items such as the boom cover and warps. If you opt for the inboard engine version, then the outboard well to starboard becomes another stern locker and battery is housed in the cabin. The lazarette contains the strapped down remote fuel tank for the outboard engine and the main bilge pump. It also swallows fenders, warps, tool kits and a host of other gear.

There’s a two part, wood and Perspex washboards and a sensibly sized sliding hatch which gives access to below. The step makes a good space to sit and survey the world while the helmsman goes about his business. Below decks the accommodation is extraordinarily comfortable with a long single berth each side with a couple of drop-in boards that widen them at the shoulders, the cabin is divided by the centreboard casing. Forward of the berths to port is a gimballed single gas ring burner, alongside which is a square section plastic bucket used as a sink with a pump drawing water from a plastic container stored within the work surface and to starboard is a large locker space for provisions. The feet of the two main berths extend under the forward ends of the cockpit benches. At the aft end of the cabin, alongside the main step, is space for storing a Porta-Potti camping loo. All mod cons in a relatively small space, there’s no room for being untidy. It’s simple, but it all works.

The Shrimper has a choice of interior layouts, my preference is the classic layout with a full width bulkhead at the forward end of the cabin with large opening doors to reveal a spacious storage area in the bow. The spare berth cushions, extension boards, bedding and the like go in here.

IMG_0917Getting underway is remarkably easy, all control lines are brought back to the cockpit through a bank of clutches on the starboard side of the main hatch. There’s a winch too, used to tighten (straighten) the headsail luff spar, but also available for setting the mainsail if needed. You only go up on the deck to remove the sail cover and ties and to let slip the mooring. Hoisting the main is simply a matter of hauling on two halyards, the throat and peak, together and locking off. The topping lift passes through a jammer mounted on the starboard side of the boom. The headsail is carried on a Sailspar roller foil worked with a continuous line, so there is no pulling on the sheets and stressing the sail itself. Nor is there a lot of spare line lying around in the cockpit. The main has simple slab reefs with lines at both ends of the boom and again it’s all done from the security of the main hatch.

The gaff rig is one that exerts little strain on the crew or the boat, so there are no sheet winches. The jib is controlled with sheets coming back into the cockpit through bull’s eyes and jammers and the aft mounted mainsheet is a simple three in one purchase with a bottom jammer mounted on a short length of track across the transom. All fittings are top quality from high end marine manufactures.

This short video called Nowell’s Ark by Kathy Stannard shows two guys taking out a Cornish Shrimper for a short sail in the Lune Estuary near Lancaster.

The Shrimper is light on the helm, she quickly chuckles along rounding up gently and with no fuss if you let go the tiller. Rather like a big dinghy, she can be almost whipped round, pivoting on her 4ft deep centreplate. She’ll point around 50° off the wind and likes to be sailed full rather than sheeted hard in. Off the wind or running, she’s smooth, vice free. In heavy and gusty winds, the shrimpers portholes can be under water, however there’s a long way to go before water comes anywhere near the cockpit coamings.

For auxiliary propulsion an outboard engine is ideal, if you opt for an inboard engine then you have the added benefit of an alternator for battery charging, however this little vessel does not need the complexities, it’s a “keep it simple” concept.

I would recommend fitting a solar panel to trickle charge the onboard battery. In addition a depth sounder, cigar type charging socket and an autohelm all come in handy. Any other electronics should be hand held portable ones you can take home.

Join the club and participate with likeminded others in rallies, racing and beach parties. Shrimper Owners Association

The Shrimper is an ideal small boat for sailing within UK territorial waters, she was designed to be sailed along the North Cornish coast in reasonable weather, she’s also ideal for exploring the upper reaches of creeks and drying out.



Before you buy any boat read this little book The Minimum Boat by Sam Llewellyn, a onetime shrimper owner. Its a lighthearted read poking gentle fun at the expensive, complicated, ostentatious forms of sailing. Laced with humour and tongue in cheek jibes. The book is illustrated throughout with cartoons from Mike Peyton.

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